Volkl Mantra (2015)
- it's new!
- wider, fully rockered
- a quick & easy carver
- not a true successor
October 10, 2014
The Mantra has changed. Yes, there have been minor tweaks to Volkl's All Mountain masterpiece over the years, including a dash of tip rocker.
But this time is different. For the 2014-2015 ski season, Volkl has rebooted the Mantra, giving us a ski that substantially departs from the concept and feel of the venerable original. For posterity's sake (and clarity), let's review the original Mantra's history. First of all—though Volkl would never admit it—the Mantra was a bit of an accident.
Way back in prehistoric times, when the Mantra debuted, 95mm underfoot was considered freakishly huge—strictly the realm of soft snow and powder skis (perhaps I exaggerate, but it's my site, and more importantly most skiers, myself included, were still years from embracing modern widths).
The genius of the original Mantra was the happy discovery that a relatively stiff, traditionally-cambered ski at the then-unthinkable width of 95mm was not in fact merely a soft-snow specialist, but rather a ski of unprecedented versatility. It took a little time for people to adapt to the extra width, but soon the Mantra was re-branded as an All Mountain ski, and as such it would come to be regarded as one of the finest skis ever made.
The Mantra's run of success is legendary, but like all things, the ski eventually began to age. Powder, never the Mantra's forte, rose in prominence in the mind of the ski consumer. High-level slashing and carving, the Mantra's specialty, declined in popularity. And New School technique and geometry transformed the sport. The Mantra began to look dated. So: reboot.
Volkl recognized the Mantra's (relative) weakness in deep snow, and wanted to fix it. They also wanted to make the ski a little easier to ride; the original Mantra rewarded technicians but wasn't nearly as exciting for blue-zone skiers. These were worthy goals, but could they be achieved without sacrificing the essential character of the original ski?
After putting the new ski through its paces, I still find that question hard to answer. The original Mantra was quick: quite spectacularly quick for its width, and quite adept at banging out slashing, fall-line slalom turns. The new Mantra is even quicker. That 'slashing' tilt is replaced with more of a carving style, across rather than straight down the fall line.
The tips and tails, thanks to highly-evolved full-length rocker, feel extremely loose rather than grabby, allowing an ease of turn initiation that is almost alarmingly effortless. The overall tactile feel of the ski, to me, is too loose, too easy. The ski is doing a little too much of the work itself, asking too little of the skier in return—but these are highly subjective observations!
The new Mantra is now 100mm underfoot, so you can expect improved soft-snow flotation, though not in the class of true powder skis like, for example, Volkl's own Shiro. Surprisingly, the new Mantra is credible in powder, but not particularly quick. I'd guess the rocker has been tuned for hard snow performance.
In terms of their stated design objectives, I'd have to say Volkl nailed it: the ski is easier to ride and powder performance is better. It doesn't strike me, however, as a true successor to the original Mantra. This feels far more like a new ski, deserving of a new name. Prospective buyers should approach it as such, and see how it strikes them.